- Anthology, Archives, Poetry, Reading, Writing

The True Picture of the Past Whizzes By, by Raymond de Borja



The Greek inventor Ctesibius creates the first water-powered cuckoo clock in the Library of Alexandria; the sculptor Daedalus uses quicksilver to give his statues movement and voice; a bronze eagle, constructed by Hephaestus, feeds on Prometheus’s liver.

Strings and mirrors, the illusion on the table, the illusion of a table, the partially material mouth.

There was once, we know, an automaton constructed in such a way that it could respond to every move by a chess player with a countermove that would ensure the winning of the game.

The results, different each night, are surprisingly human.

And beautiful not because infinitely deferred but because inconsistent in its logic of appearance.



Zoe Leonard desires to take up her Rolleiflex and photograph “every single object in the world, every product of human manufacture.”

We harmonize by omitting, our necessary fragments and gaps, and almost call it loving.

Our participation in this self-making (see for example, a comedy).

“It is one of the most noteworthy peculiarities of the human heart,” writes Lotze, “that so much selfishness in individuals coexists with the general lack of envy which every present day feels toward its future.”

Depreciation is planned obsolescence.



A chronicler remembers the great and small, the pictures that are our private language, the texture that means we are touching speech.

Of course only a redeemed mankind is granted the fullness of its past—which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments.

How else might we imagine a different social order were we to make speech out of our human condition?

Passionate believers—we go on anticipating the spirituality of technical labor.

“Who am I?” begins Breton’s Nadja.



When asked about her marriage, Jenny von Westphalen was touted to have said, “Yes, we were happy enough, but I wish dear Karl could have spent some time acquiring capital instead of writing about it.”

We are at a point in our lives when currency speculation is more profitable than surplus labor; value creates value.

It said, “Phlogiston, caloric, corpuscle,” words with no real referent, the luminiferous aether.

They are alive in this struggle as confidence, courage, humor, cunning, and fortitude, and have effects that reach far back into the past.

It said, “Grab the book nearest you”—the third sentence of the fourth chapter describes your life.



The past can be seized only as an image that flashes up at the moment of its recognizability, and is never seen again.

But viewed from another moment, a point is a line, and a line is a surface illuminating its surrounding space.

Which is to say, your presence is required.

For a moment, the previous scene’s rubble floats over your worried face as if you were water.

The people of the future have the constant expression of hyperawareness—isn’t cinema about someone, anyone going after an image?



We read today’s headline, something that unexpectedly appears, and the way things really are, then give their relationship a sound.

Everything (after crossing the boundary between the visible and the invisible, the living and the dead, buffer zones, phases of matter…) ends up in some sort of receiver.

It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger.

The immediate past is in the present as a sideward glance; the present moment built out of many sideward glances.

Is the ear shaped like a receiver, or the receiver shaped liked an ear?



Barbarism from the Greek “barbaros,” meaning foreign, related to the Sanskrit “barbaras,” meaning stammering.

There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.

She means to ask, “Are you also a foreigner?” but instead she says, “Are you also a stranger?”

Sight-reading parts that are meant to be song.

An empathetic listener sees you fidgeting with your hands.



A Sunday with light rain, music for chase scenes, then music for murder.

An anecdote beginning: Documents take the place of dreams.

Two blocks away from the stock exchange, at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Georges Bataille studying coins.

We are poised at the beginning of knowledge, our faces backlit with words.

This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—



A baroque filter heightens our experience of daily life.

On the desk are sounds coming from nowhere, photographic evidence of angels, and photographs of sound.

The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.

In January 2012, the Eastman Kodak Company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

For angels, read bankers; for aura, read filters.



Because in the end we end up with nothing in our hands but signs, with nothing in our signs, why—

Because a body in motion, why—because a body at rest.

The themes which monastic discipline assigned to friars for meditation were designed to turn them away from the world and its affairs.

Because the full apparatus for recreating the scene: a real mountain, real people on vacation, why—

Because here is a woman with rose-colored sunglasses, who will have cause in the future to grieve, but doesn’t know it yet.



According to Fourier, cooperative labor would increase efficiency to such an extent that four moons would illuminate the sky at night, the polar ice caps would recede, seawater would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man’s bidding.

And what of the evidential quality of the work?

Language dreams in form: the self-portrait of the working class: a sky-full of apertures.

Either we allow the plumbing and the wiring to show, or draw over it a veneer.

As a result, the currencies of twelve member-countries are replaced by the Euro.



We need history, but our need for it differs from that of the jaded idlers in the garden of knowledge.

In 1974, Gordon Matta-Clark procures a plot of land measuring one hundred by one square feet on Lafayette Street, New York.

Things omitted: a scholium on green, a garden in the marginalia.

Yet by some kind of error, we are here.

To have and to hold the premises herein granted unto the second party, the heirs or successors and assigns of the second party forever.



It was such a unique product, but it needed on it a human face to make a connection.

Second, it was something boundless (in keeping with an infinite perfectibility of humanity).

It was John Berger’s voice saying that whenever van Gogh painted a road, “the roadmakers” were present “in his imagination.”

It was music.

Cinema’s a constantly updating cloud.



Fashion has a nose for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago.

Now something seen, something described; now, something referred to, something returning, in the form of a question.

Thus, when Condillac imagined his statue gaining one by one each of the five senses, he endowed it with first the sense of smell.

Then mannequins—their medium specificity.

Now it comes to us radical and decorative, a garage sale to spark commerce among our private selves.



Frame where actions take their place, place under natural light, light’s arrested quality.

Who witnesses sees only song.

Then us placed side-by-side as if in lyric we.

An eyewitness, who may have owed his insight to the rhyme, wrote as follows.

But the subject sees differently, attempts to sing of common air.



For this notion defines the very present in which he himself is writing history.

We cannot figure out for instance whose memory it is.

Then lines approach the present each with its desirous pause.

The we which we are and cannot ever be there.

Eva Hesse writes Sol LeWitt: “You asked me to write. Sol, closeness and not knowing enough. Another’s world. I cannot know your world.”



It involves words, the definitions of words, the definitions of the definitions of words, until a garden, before erasure, in the pause before naming, where the wheel, where the wheel is a cup, where the cup the inner ear, where the face a fact.

Thinking involves not only the movement of thoughts, but their arrest as well.

Trace recorded in its vanishing, a faint architecture.

The seeable caesurae: The paragraph’s a tracking shot.

And then we find Proust withstanding sleep, sleepily writing sentences.



In tracing the emergence of the uniform, monetized hours of factory time, Edward Palmer Thompson begins with lines from Geoffrey Chaucer, where a rooster: “Wel sikerer was his crowyng in his logge / Than is a clokke, or an abbey orlogge.”

Or, as a kind of abbreviation, the present that we share.

On this scale, the history of civilized mankind would take up one-fifth of the last second of the last hour.

Where the hour of leisure is the hour of work?

“No,” she says, “that’s not it.”




Each section of “The True Picture of the Past Whizzes By” contains a sentence taken from a corresponding section of Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History” (or “Theses on the Philosophy of History”), specifically, the English language version, which appears in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. 4, edited by Michael Jennings.



  • Raymond de Borja is the author of they day daze. His writing can also be found in The Capilano Review, High Chair, Entropy, and elsewhere. He is at work on facture, his second book of poems. De Borja is from the Philippines.

4 thoughts on “The True Picture of the Past Whizzes By, by Raymond de Borja

Leave a Reply